About being an Expat

10 important tips for first-time expats

Moving abroad for the first time is a scary proposition. These top tips will set first-time expats on the right track to a positive life abroad.

First-time expats

By Expatica

Updated 29-2-2024

Choosing to move abroad and live the life of an expatriate is certainly the road less traveled, especially for first-time expats. You can feel just like poet Robert Frost: “Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.” Just as he says, taking the road less traveled is what makes all the difference.

This could either be one step in the right direction or the wrong one. It depends on how you react to the situation; will you take proactive steps to avoid setbacks?

Before you start checking items off of your moving abroad checklist, you need to prepare yourself and your family members mentally for the move abroad. Here are some tips that first-time expats should keep in mind before they fly off and touch base with foreign soil.

Think about your accommodation

Before you reach a decision, get to know where you’re going first really well. If possible, ask your company to allow you to pre-visit the place. Make sure to check out different areas where you may get housing and possibilities of relocation. Relocation agents can be a great help here. This will also help you shape an idea of the realistic lifestyle you will live: what housing is in your budget range, or are there decent schools nearby? Above all, don’t rush into a hasty decision when it comes to buying a house.

Consult all of your family members

One of the biggest issues for first-time expats is the lack of mutual satisfaction among the family members. Remember that decisions can’t be made alone. Your partner, children, elderly parents, and even the family pet should be on-board with the idea of you moving abroad and adjusting to an entirely new location. Your children deserve extra attention here; the choice between sending them to a local school or an international school is an important one. Not seeking consent or being forceful will only lead to personal and emotional issues that can hamper your effectiveness in your new host country and workplace.

Learn the language

Yes, you need to learn the language of where you are going to live. Let’s be honest: you won’t be fluent in a month, but you need to at least learn the basics to get around as a first-time expat. Don’t leave it to the last minute and think you’ll do fine when you get there. If you don’t speak the local language, you might need someone’s help every step of the way. Therefore, learn as much as you can before moving abroad, or at least learn some of the most commonly used phrases and words (e.g., ‘how are you?’, ‘where can I find…’, how much does this cost?’, ‘can you help me?’, ‘where does this street go’). Learning how to say ‘cheers’ won’t hurt, either.

Embrace independence

If you have always been dependent on someone, you’re certainly going to have a hard time abroad. It’s important to learn to do things yourself; when you move to a new place, you might have no one around to help you. Washing clothes, digging through cookbooks, or learning how to light a water heater aren’t things you want to have to learn when you first arrive.

Be realistic

If you think your time abroad will be one long dream, you’re mistaken. There are certainly many glamorous points to living abroad. But the mundane, daily tasks are the same no matter where you live. Remember that you won’t be a tourist on an extended vacation. You’re a first-time expat hired by your organization on a mission to fulfill a certain goal, or for whatever reason you moved abroad. So, stay focused!

Do your research

Have you checked out the website of the host country’s embassy? How about your own home country’s embassy? Thoroughly go through the customs, cultures, and laws of that country to avoid any trouble or cultural blunders. Find out if you need anything particular to that country in advance, such as vaccinations or medications. Know before you go if you can easily sort out a few essentials yourself, like a new SIM card for your mobile phone or setting up a new bank account.

Pick a busy location initially

Pick a spot that has almost everything available nearby. Living in the middle of nowhere can be quite troublesome when setting up a new home abroad, not to mention isolating if you’re trying to meet new people. Hence, make sure that healthcare services, convenience stores and supermarkets are not too far from your home. Once you know a city well, it’s much easier to pick a location that suits you or your family, even if it’s a few train stations away. By that time, you might have the facilities you need.

Adjust to what you have

When you’re a first-time expat, you need to adapt to what’s available in your new environment. For instance, you may have only ordered coffee from a particular company, but you may have to adjust to whatever type of coffee you get can in your locality. Weird smells? You’ll need to just get used to it. Constantly complaining about how you can’t find the same brands as back home or that you prefer the public transportation network back home doesn’t build a healthy relationship with your new home. Try to focus on the positives and venture outside of your comfort zone. Maybe you’ll find an even better brand of coffee in the process.

Meet the locals

If you’re going to skip out on friendships or social gatherings and live alone in a peaceful place, it’s okay. However, there will be a point when you’ll start feeling the need to talk to someone, either with locals or even other first-time expats. Not isolating yourself from others can greatly improve your perspective of a new place and help you connect, regardless if you’re just trying to make new friends or if you’re trying to flirt with a local. Let the locals know a little about you and let them return the favor. You’ll be learning so much from them in no time. It is also a great way to build networks, which in many countries, can be key to finding the perfect job or apartment.

Overcome homesickness

This is a requisite for embracing independence for first-time expats. If you keep thinking about your home and how the grass was greener there, it will become difficult for you to live away from your home. So, stave off the culture shock and don’t look back! Set yourself a minimum time (at least three to six months) where you don’t allow yourself to think about going back. Learn to love just where you are, and this thought will keep you going.